OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Green groups want assurance Rice will dump oil sands stocks

STATE OF PLAY: Environmentalists are pressing the White House to ensure that Susan Rice dumps shares in oil sands-related companies if she’s nominated for secretary of State.

“The White House has gotten the message that people are very concerned about this,” said Jamie Henn, co-founder of the climate advocacy group 350.org.

Environmentalists are concerned over revelations that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and her husband could own up to $600,000 worth of stock in TransCanada Corp., the company seeking to build the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

The proposed pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, which environmentalists oppose, is currently under State Department review.

A 2011 financial disclosure form that Rice filed earlier this year lists the holdings in TransCanada, and valuable shares in energy companies that are developing oil sands such as Royal Dutch Shell and Suncor.

“We have conveyed very clearly that a conflict of interest, such as a candidate for this position, holding stock in TransCanada or other tar sands companies is not acceptable,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

She said NRDC expects that the holdings would be dumped as part of compliance with ethics rules if Rice were to be tapped to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who intends to step down early in President Obama's second term.

“We fully expect that Ambassador Rice would get rid of holdings in those companies should she come into that position,” she said.

NRDC’s magazine OnEarth published an online story Wednesday detailing the holdings, and it drew follow-up coverage in The Hill and several other outlets. The TransCanada holdings have also been previously highlighted by the Sunlight Foundation.

The concern over Rice’s shares in oil and pipeline companies arrives as she’s already under fire from Republicans over her descriptions of the attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya.

White House press secretary Jay Carney, when asked Thursday if Rice’s TransCanada holdings would pose a conflict if she is nominated, dismissed the question as speculation.

“I’m not going to speculate about a nomination process that hasn’t even occurred,” Carney said.

He also appeared to argue that Republican political operatives are behind the press coverage of Rice’s TransCanada holdings.

“I would commend Republican opposition researchers for the intellectual bandwidth that is required to read a financial disclosure form, because this was all documented in a financial disclosure form, entirely, appropriately, legally and by the books,” Carney said at a press briefing.

While Rice’s potential nomination faces trouble with Republicans over Benghazi, there are not yet signs that her stock holdings could affect her standing with liberal lawmakers that oppose the Keystone pipeline.

“As somebody who is very much against that project, I want to make sure that anybody who looks at it does it in an objective manner,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a lead opponent of Keystone, said Thursday. “Whether that influences her judgment, I don’t know.”

Henn, of 350.org, said the group is not opposing Rice’s potential nomination for secretary of State.

He and Casey-Lefkowitz say their principal focus is on ensuring a fair review of the project at State — one they contend should lead to Keystone’s rejection.

“We are not, right now, actively opposing her being nominated, but it does raise serious concerns about a conflict-of-interest with respect to climate in general and Keystone in particular,” Henn said.


House committee to discuss oil, gas research and development

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will discuss research and development in various fossil fuel sources on Friday.

The committee will discuss Chairman Ralph Hall’s (R-Texas) bill, H.R. 6603, which he introduced Tuesday.

The bill calls for research and development spending in shale oil and natural-gas drilling, oil shale development and water reuse and recycling. E2-Wire has more on that bill here.

Witnesses include: Anthony Cugini, director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory and Michael Hagood, director of program development for energy and environment science and technology at Idaho National Laboratory.

Conference to highlight natural disaster resiliency

The National Academy of Sciences will host a Friday conference on natural disaster preparedness that includes remarks from a senior Energy Department official.

The conference will touch on issues brought to light by Superstorm Sandy, such as how to improve infrastructure resiliency. The event expands on the National Academy of Sciences report titled, “Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative.”

Speakers include Richard Reed, White House deputy assistant for homeland security; Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary of the office of electricity delivery and energy reliability with the Energy Department; and Kathryn Sullivan, deputy administrator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Republican presses EPA for answers on Alaskan mine

A GOP House member charged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is attempting to add “unnecessary regulatory hurdles” by imposing a water impact test for a potential Alaska mine.

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), who chairs the Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, said the test circumvents established federal permitting procedures.

“I am troubled by the EPA's vagueness in explaining the purpose of the [water test], particularly since it appears as though the agency is positioning itself to use the document in any way it sees fit in the future,” Broun said in a Thursday letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

The mine is slated for a region that houses nearly half of the world’s sockeye salmon population. The mine’s opponents argue any sort of mine would threaten the fish, and that they invited EPA to do the water test because state officials avoided conducting one.

But Broun, along with other House Republicans, is concerned EPA is setting a precedent by requiring a water impact test for the mine even though the developers have not formally submitted a blueprint. They say that will spook investment near waterways.

E2-Wire has written about the Bristol Bay project here, here and here.

Sen. Rockefeller presses Kia, Hyundai on fuel reimbursement program

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he is concerned some people are unaware of a program that reimburses owners of Kia and Hyundai cars with overstated fuel economies.

An EPA audit discovered about 900,000 Kia and Hyundai cars from model years 2011 through 2013 overstated fuel efficiencies by 1 to 6 miles per gallon.

Hyundai and Kia voluntarily agreed to repay the car owners for fuel costs through a special debit card for as long as they own the vehicles.

Rockefeller sent letters to the automakers’ chiefs Thursday asking for more information on how the firms would reach customers about the program.

“While I believe this is a positive step, I am concerned that many affected consumers will not learn about the program, or may find it burdensome to participate in the program,” Rockefeller said in his letter.


Check out these stories that ran on E2-Wire Thursday ...  

— Sen. Corker to leave Energy committee

— GOP lawmakers float resolution to keep carbon tax grounded

— Senate passes amendment allowing biofuel refinery construction

— Poll: Most favor stronger soot rules

— US Chamber touts energy ‘cash cow’ in fiscal talks

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